This year’s Charter Day marked the 325th anniversary of the founding of The College of William & Mary by William III and Mary II, the first and (to date) only joint-monarchs in British history. An exhibition in the lobby at Swem Library brings the focus to William and Mary – the people, not the university.
In my everlasting search for materials relating to African Americans in Special Collections, I was pointed to the 1921 edition of the Colonial Echo. Within its worn cover, there is a single page spread entitled “The Dark Side of College Life.” These are the only words. The rest of the page is filled with several black and white photographs of exactly what one might expect – black employees of the College. Their identities are unknown as the editors of the Colonial Echo did not choose to include the individuals’ names. It seemed to me that this ‘exploration’ of this so-called dark side was a little lacking.
On the night of Sunday October 16, 1859, twenty-three men emerged from the woods surrounding the town of Harpers Ferry, which sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in present-day West Virginia. Armed with rifles and pikes, their mission was to successfully secure the large cache of weapons kept in the town’s armory and expel the U.S. military from the area. Led by the radical abolitionist John Brown, their overarching goal was to end slavery in the South by force, arming liberated enslaved people in Virginia with rifles and arms from the armory so that they could rise up against the white planter class.
Down in the belly of Special Collections sits a mysterious blue velvet box. Its contents are simultaneously mundane and bizarre, important for the study of language in Spain, and remarkably unremarkable. The box bears the inscription Matxin de Zalbaren Gutuna, La Carta de Machin de Zalba, 1416. What is it? Why do we have it? What makes it both special and ordinary?